Twenty months have passed since former Totino-Grace hockey standout Matt Olson suffered the spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
On Thursday night, Olson was at the Xcel Energy Center for the Wild vs. Islanders game as a special guest of the Islanders’ Anders Lee, an Edina native.
“He’s a special kid,” Lee said of Olson. “For what he’s gone through, and the strength that he’s shown and the courage he’s got, it’s pretty inspiring.”
Lee met Olson last summer after checking to see how the former defenseman’s recovery was going.
Olson was playing for the Chicago Cougars, in the U.S. Premier Hockey League on Feb. 21, 2016, when he suffered the injury.
Chasing a puck behind the Chicago net, Olson brushed against an opponent, stumbled and crashed headfirst into the boards, breaking bones in his neck and pinching his spinal cord.
“We’re all just hockey players and at the end of the day, it was taken away from him,” Lee said. “He’s just a wonderful kid and a wonderful guy and I really cherish our friendship.”
Olson is scheduled to drop the ceremonial puck on Nov. 6 at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game between Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth. That game is at Isanti County Arena, where Olson spent countless hours skating as a kid.
“It means a lot to me to have my hometown community supporting me,” Olson said in news release, promoting the Hall of Fame game.
Lee, 27, who starred at Edina High School and Notre Dame, is now in his sixth season with the Islanders. A 34-goal scorer last season, he entered Thursday’s game with seven points (five goals and two assists) this year.
This will be the Islanders only visit to Minnesota this season.
“I always tell [Olson], I’ll bring you to the game every time we’re in town,” Lee said. “He follows the Islanders and the Wild, so it’s always special for him to be able to come to the game and see it.”
Nino Niederreiter, out since Oct. 12 because of a high ankle sprain, took part in Thursday’s optional morning skate.
“I’m pretty close [to returning for games],” Niederreiter said. “I mean today I did almost a full stop and felt pretty comfortable with it. It’s just a matter of getting the trust back and knowing that it’s going to hold up.”
Niederreiter said he plans to practice with the team again Friday.
Asked if he might be able to play in Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, Niederreiter said, “We will see. Possibility.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau declined to speculate when Niederreiter would return.
“He’s feeling better, but they always say they’re feeling better,” Boudreau said. “So we’ll just rely on the trainer for that.”
• The Wild recalled forward Zack Mitchell to fill the roster spot cleared when it sent Justin Kloos back to Iowa after Tuesday’s game. Mitchell has played in four games for Minnesota and four AHL games for Iowa this season.
• Devan Dubnyk was back in net after taking Tuesday’s hard-luck 1-0 loss against Vancouver.
• Alex Stalock, who won Saturday’s 4-2 game at Calgary, might be a candidate to start again Saturday, when two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh comes to St. Paul.
• Wild forward Marcus Foligno has worn a full-cage facemask since returning from his broken cheek bone injury.
“I can’t wait to be out of the cage,” Foligno said. “I think when November hits, we’ll be able to take it off.”